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Common diseases in older dogs: Obesity

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This article discusses how a dog becomes overweight, why this is not good, and what you can do to bring your dog back to the correct weight.

Excess weight is a common problem for dogs. But, as with humans, it's better and healthier for a dog to be of normal weight than to be overweight.

In this section, we'll examine how a dog becomes overweight, why this is a problem, and what you can do to help your dog get back to a healthy and ideal weight.

  • How dogs become overweight
  • Why your dog should lose weight
  • Helping your dog lose weight
  • Dieting for dogs
  • Feeding your dog
  • How dogs become overweight
    Dogs nearly always become overweight from eating more food than they need, and then not getting enough exercise. Calories in the food they eat, which aren't used for daily activities, are stored as fat. Overeating may result from greediness, boredom, or overfeeding.

    Feeding leftovers or giving frequent snacks or treats often contributes to the excess weight problem. Moreover, a small snack for a person is a large number of calories for a dog. Feeding treats may also encourage your dog to beg at the table, and dogs are often skilled at teaching their owners to feed them treats!

    Over-fed puppies tend to become overweight dogs, and also have a greater risk of developing orthopedic problems. If you feed your puppy correctly when he's young, he'll be less at risk of having weight problems later in his life.

    Occasionally, metabolic disorders can make a dog overweight. But overfeeding and under exercising are much more common causes of excess weight. If your veterinarian suspects a metabolic disorder is causing your dog to gain weight, he or she will test for that disorder.

    A quick way to check if your dog is overweight is to feel his ribs with the flat of your hand. If you can only feel the ribs with difficulty, your dog probably needs to lose weight.

    Why your dog should lose weight
    Overweight dogs may live shorter and less healthy lives than those of normal weight. Carrying extra weight puts an extra burden on bones and joints, and can make arthritis problems worse. Overweight dogs can be uncomfortable and less able to play and exercise. Their bodies may be less able to resist infections, and they're at greater risk for problems during surgery and anesthesia.

    Being overweight is a real danger to your dog's well being. It may shorten his life and your enjoyment of his companionship. You can and should do something about it.

    Here are some of the problems an overweight dog may come down with or aggravate:

  • Problems of movement, including arthritis, hip dysplasia, spinal disc problems and rupture of joint ligaments
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Surgical and anaesthetic risk
  • Heat intolerance
  • Poor coat and skin condition
  • Lowered resistance to infectious diseases
  • Respiratory disorders made worse
  • Helping your dog lose weight
    Weight loss for most dogs involves increased exercise, and eating food with fewer calories. It's usually easier to feed normal amounts of a low-calorie diet than to feed much smaller amounts of a regular diet. Plus, your dog will not feel as hungry. Your veterinarian can help with advice and special diets, but achieving success is up to you and other members of your family. Only you can ensure that your dog really does lose weight. It will take effort and commitment, but this is well worth it in terms of the quality of life, health and companionship your dog and you will enjoy.

    Dieting for dogs
    Your vet will set a target weight for your dog, and will recommend how much food he should eat each day. A special low-calorie diet may also be prescribed. This diet is designed to satisfy your dog and give him all the vitamins and minerals he needs for a balanced diet, but it will still supply fewer calories than normal food does.

    Please keep in mind that it's important for your dog to eat only what your vet recommends. Your family and everyone else who comes into contact with your dog must understand this. They should try not to fall for the appealing or manipulative looks your dog gives them and end up slipping him extra food, tidbits, or treats.

    Your dog may need to have a more gradual transition from the old to the new diet. So, you would feed him increasing amounts of the new diet and decreasing amounts of the previous diet each day over several days.

    To stop your dog from begging, feed him before your family eats, and keep him out of the room during your meal. Also, take care in feeding overweight dogs at the same time as other pets, to prevent them from stealing food from their slimmer companions. Always make sure your dog has clean fresh drinking water available.

    Regular exercise, such as walks or runs, is good for most dogs, as it increases the number of calories they burn. If your dog is in poor health, or elderly, check with your vet before letting the dog have a sudden increase in exercise.

    The length of time your dog stays on a reducing diet depends on how much weight he needs to lose. A dog may need 8 to 14 weeks to reach his target weight. After reaching this first target weight, he may have to go on a repeat program to lose more weight and arrive at his ultimate target weight. Then, after reaching his goal, he may need to go on a program of careful diet and exercise to maintain his new weight.

    Feeding your dog
    A dieting dog has special nutritional needs. His diet should be low in calories, so that he uses up his fat stores for energy. The diet should still provide a normal volume of food, to stop him from feeling too hungry. And, it should provide all the other nutrients in the proper amounts. To meet these needs, your veterinarian may prescribe a special diet that contains a low level of energy and the correct balance of nutrients in a delicious, satisfying meal.

    Interestingly, these special diets don't need to include high levels of fiber--as often found in human diet foods. Fiber is not necessary for weight loss in pets, and in large amounts, it can have side effects such as increased feces and lack of interest in the food because of its poor taste.

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